Sir George Thomas Beatson (1848-1933)

In 1933 Sir George Beatson bequeathed  Haul on the Sands painted by Joseph Henderson in 1874, a Glasgow based artist who became known for his marine paintings. Henderson was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Scottish Academy and at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and was president of the Glasgow Art Club. 

Henderson, Joseph, 1832-1908; Haul on the Sands
Figure 1. Henderson, Joseph; Haul on the Sands; Glasgow Museums; (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection)

George Beatson was born in Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1849 to Surgeon-General George Stewart Beatson (1) and Mary Jane Cochrane.(2) George senior was honorary physician to Queen Victoria and served with distinction in Ceylon and India during the Crimean War, subsequently becoming principal Medical officer at Netley Hospital in Hampshire. The impressive hospital buildings were not however well designed for patients welfare and it was Florence Nightingale who subsequently put pressure on the government to improve facilities.(3) Mary Cochrane, whose family came from the Isle of Man,  was the daughter of an officer who was a member of The Ceylon Rifles.(4)

 George junior followed in his fathers footsteps in medicine and his name is now very much associated with cancer treatment in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow.

Sir_George_Thomas_Beatson._Photograph_by_T._&_R._Annan_&_Son_Wellcome_V0026013
Figure 2.   Sir George Thomas Beatson           Photograph by T & R Annan and Sons, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 , Wellcomecollection.org/works/jkp6w8u

George was brought up in Campbeltown, Argyll with his parents and attended school there. He continued his education at King Williams College in Isle of Man, presumably due to his mothers connection to the island. From there he studied at Clare College, Cambridge where he achieved Batchelor of Arts in 1871, and continued his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he qualified as Batchelor of Medicine in 1874.(5) It was during this period that he became interested in the treatment of breast cancer and graduated as Doctor of Medicine in 1878. His final thesis focused on the links between ovulation, lactation and cancer. In 1896 he published a paper on oophorectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the ovaries, in which he proposed a treatment for advanced breast cancer and which became standard practice in cancer treatment.(6) 

While in Edinburgh George became House Surgeon and studied antiseptic principles under Lord Lister, who was Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow in 1860, and who is commemorated by a statue in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. During Beatsons time as House Surgeon at University of Edinburgh, W E Henley, a patient and poet friend of R L Stevenson, composed some lines to describe George’s character…

Exceeding tall, but built so well his height,

Half disappears in flow of chest and limb,

Frank-faced, frank-eyed, frank-hearted, always bright,

And always punctual-morning, noon and night,…(7)

Perhaps not the finest poem ever composed but it probably describes him well, as he appears to have been a highly respected figure who combined compassion with ambition.

George moved to Glasgow in 1878 and took up general Practice before progressing to surgical appointments in the Western Infirmary.(8) He lived at 2 Royal Crescent, Glasgow (9) till around 1900 when he moved to 7 Woodside Crescent nearby and remained there till his death in 1933. (10)

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Figure 3. 2 Royal Crescent, Glasgow. Photograph by author

In 1893 he was appointed to Glasgow Cancer and Skin Institute, renamed Glasgow Cancer Hospital in 1894, was appointed Director and took complete control over its functions. He appears to have had formidable organisational and administrative skills, perhaps influenced by his military background. He encouraged research at the hospital and pioneered radium therapy in Scotland.

 He persuaded Lady Burrell, wife of the shipping magnate who gifted the Burrell Collection to Glasgow, to provide £10,000 to open the Radium Institute at 132 Hill Street, Glasgow.(11) On the establishment of The National Health Service in 1948 the hospital came under the control of the Western Board of Management and in 1953 was renamed The Royal Beatson Memorial Hospital in his memory. (12)

The clinical section was moved to a new centre within the Western Infirmary and was named The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre. In 2007 the Centre was moved to new state of the art premises within Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow’s West End which has clinical links with 21 hospitals in the west of Scotland. It is the second largest facility of its type in the UK.(13)

Beatson’s pioneering research played an important role in improving cancer treatments and this work continues at The Beatson Institute in Glasgow. In 1967 the Department became The Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and in 1976 moved to new premises at Garscube Estate in Glasgow.(14)

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Figure 4. Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, Permission of Vojtech Dostal.

George managed to make time for other interests. At the end of the 19th century there was no ambulance service in Glasgow and he pioneered the forming of the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association. He was also active in the Volunteer Association, forerunner of the Territorial Army. He played a leading role in the Scottish Red Cross Association in Glasgow and a portrait of him remains at their headquarters in Glasgow.(15)

V0026014 Sir George Thomas Beatson. Photograph by Warneuke.
Figure 5. Sir George Thomss Beaton. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Sir George Thomas Beatson. Photograph by Warneuke. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

During his long and active career he received many honours and decorations. He was knighted in 1907 and awarded an OBE in 1918 in recognition of his services during World War 1 and in 1919 he became Deputy Lieutenant of City of Glasgow.(16) In 2006 the University of Glasgow commissioned a bronze bust of Sir George by Guyan Porter, a Glasgow based artist, for the Hunterian Museum.

Beatson, George by
Figure 6. Bust of George Beatson by Guyan Porter, Hunterian Museum, Glasgow. Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International, permission Stephen C Dickson

Sir George died at his home at 7 Woodside Crescent, Glasgow in his 85th year on 16th February 1933 after a period of ill health.(17) The funeral was held at Park Church and was attended by representatives of many medical organisations including The Red Cross and St Johns Ambulance. His ashes were interred at his mothers grave on the Isle of Man.(18)

DS

References –

  1. https://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH27292&type=P
  2. Deaths, Beatson George, Thomas K (644/12 0213), http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netley_Hospital
  4. https://www.beatson.scot.nhs.uk/content/default.asp?page=s32
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Beatson
  6. https://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH27292&type=P
  7. https://www.thebreastonline.com/article/0960-9776(92)90121-H/pdf
  8. https://www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk/biography/?id=WH27292&type=P
  9. Census 1891 Beatson George T (644/09 018/09 012), www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk 
  10. Deaths, Beatson George, Thomas K (644/12 0213), www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk 
  11. https://www.thebreastonline.com/article/0960-9776(92)90121-H/pdf
  12. https://www.beatson.scot.nhs.uk/content/default.asp?page=s32
  13. https://www.nhsggc.org.uk/your-health/health-services/cancer-services/the-beatson-west-of-scotland-cancer-centre/
  14. http://www.beatson.gla.ac.uk/About/history.html https://www.thebreastonline.com/article/0960-9776(92)90121-H/pdf
  15. https://www.thebreastonline.com/article/0960-9776(92)90121-H/pdf
  16. https://www.bmj.com/content/1/2627/1090.3
  17. Deaths, Beatson George, Thomas K (644/12 0213), www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  18. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.3322/canjclin.33.2.105